As the pandemic put a stop to film production, music tours and theatre performances, the traditional concept of the ‘celebrity’ has been compromised. This year the viewership of the Oscars was at it record lowest. At the same time, music artists have been forced to postpone tours indefinitely. In the same year, social media influencers and YouTube ‘celebrities’ have been gathering more attention than ever before.
This attention has been both positive and negative. Popular content creators David Dobrik, James Charles and Jake Paul share over 18 million subscribers on their YouTube channels. They also share in common sexual violence allegations which have come to light in the last month. While each of their allegations shares few similarities, and each of them attracts different audiences, the reaction from the internet seems to be consistent. They have been ‘cancelled’.
In an age where the audience (and essentially the consumer) acts as both judge and jury for any individual in the limelight, ‘cancellations’ like this are not rare. In fact, they seem to be becoming increasingly common. There is no HR department to deal with a Youtuber when they participate in blackface or are recorded using homophobic slurs. The audience becomes the HR department. This, of course, can have positive repercussions- who better to call an influencer out than their own audience, who have supported them and given them their platform. Yet, why should the audience have this responsibility? Shouldn’t the social media platform itself take responsibility in addressing when a creator has acted unfavourably?
Well, for James Charles and David Dobrik, YouTube has taken action. They have demonetised all of their videos, suspending any ad revenue being pocketed by Dobrik and Charles. Essentially, YouTube has severely docked their wages. Some argue this is not far enough, calling for the suspension of their accounts altogether. But this action would beckon a much more complex question- when does being held accountable become censorship?
There is no precedent set for how social media platforms should correctly hold online creators accountable for their actions. While suspending their account entirely treads the line of censorship, allowing audiences to ‘punish’ creators themselves fails to protect the influencers from online berating and threats. How can badly-behaved influencers be safely and fairly reprimanded when they have abused their power?
Rather than having to fall into this conundrum, perhaps as the audience, we should be paying attention to whom we are giving a platform. Social media platforms should not have to become virtual courtrooms for morally questionable influencers. Rather than glorifying shock-based content that promotes influencers like Jake Paul and David Dobrik, audiences are responsible for consuming content that promotes their own values. Hopefully, this will ensure that those given a platform and a ‘celebrity’ status do not abuse their influence as David Dobrik, James Charles, and Jake Paul have allegedly done.
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